ST. LOUIS — The Archdiocese of St. Louis on Friday released the names of 61 clergy members with substantiated abuse allegations against them, as well as three priests who were found to have possessed child pornography, following a monthslong internal review of diocesan records going back 70 years.
“It will be painful for all of us to see the names of clergy accused of behavior we can barely allow ourselves to imagine,” Archbishop Robert Carlson said in a prepared statement to his flock. “But publishing their names is the right thing to do.”
The long-awaited announcement comes amid renewed focus on the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church following an explosive Pennsylvania grand jury report in August that documented decades of abuses and cover-ups involving hundreds of priests. The list of priests with credible allegations of abuse is poised to influence Carlson’s legacy as he nears retirement.
None of the 64 named in the list released Friday is in active ministry.
“Very few names” in the list are being publicized for the first time, said Peter Frangie, archdiocese spokesman. “We found nothing new that alarmed us.”
But, he said, the archdiocese received calls from people who were learning for the first time that a clergy member on the list was accused of abuse.
He said Friday he was unable to identify the former priests whose names were being publicized for the first time or details about their alleged abusive behavior, but was pursuing that information.
Advocates for sex abuse victims blasted the list, which does not include details about the abuse allegations themselves, as a partial disclosure released after years of public pressure. And they cast doubt that the list reflected the full extent of priests credibly accused of abuse, given that the archdiocese records from a lawsuit in 2014 showed complaints made against 115 priests.
“It's irresponsible to keep silent about a potentially dangerous child molester — or even a deceased one — and wait to disclose this knowledge in groups or bunches when it suits an employer’s public relations needs,” said David Clohessy, with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
“So while this may seem like a step forward, it confirms that Catholic officials are still keeping secrets about predator priests and deliberately putting innocent children and vulnerable adults in harm’s way.”
Several Catholic institutions across the country published lists of credibly accused priests following the grand jury report, including the dioceses of Belleville, Jefferson City, and the St. Louis-based Jesuits U.S. Central and Southern Province, which includes Missouri and southern Illinois.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis announced in August that it would release a similar list after conducting an internal review. Carlson invited then-Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley to review the Archdiocese records as part of a statewide investigation into allegations of clergy sex crimes.
Frangie said it was unclear whether any of the names in the list could be subject to new criminal charges, but the information will be provided to Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office.
A spokesman for Schmitt said Friday the attorney general’s office was reviewing Carlson’s findings “and how they fit into our investigation,” but declined further comment.
‘The best way forward’
The archdiocese’s list stems from an internal review of allegations dating to the 1950s, a time frame that best reflects the current geographic footprint of the archdiocese in eastern Missouri, which includes more than 500,000 people in St. Louis and 10 surrounding counties. The review did not include records from local Catholic orders in the area, like The Marianists.
At least 34 of those named on the list are dead; of those, 12 were first accused of abuse after they had died. The list includes three priests not accused of abuse but who were found to have possessed child pornography.
A review of Post-Dispatch records Friday showed some names of clergy already publicly known to have been accused of abuse, including Fred Lenczycki, 74, who admitted to victimizing around 30 young boys in three states over 25 years, or the names of five priests the archdiocese publicized in 2008 after paying $8.2 million to settle 103 sexual abuse claims.
While other Catholic institutions’ lists have added information, such as the years in which clergy were accused of abuse, the list released by the archdiocese intentionally does not have information about the allegations themselves.
“We are thinking about the victims in each of these cases and trying to be respectful of their privacy and emotions around this difficult issue,” Frangie, the spokesman, said. “We thought this would be the best way forward.”
Meanwhile, survivors of clergy sex abuse, advocates and watchdog groups have included more detailed accounts in their own lists of credibly accused clergy over the years, including an extensive national list maintained by Bishop Accountability. Legal settlements and trials have forced disclosures in a number of dioceses across the country.
Advocates have long called for the archdiocese’s accounting of credibly accused clergy, particularly since the archdiocese was court-ordered in 2014 to turn over a matrix of 240 complaints against 115 priests and other church employees as part of a lawsuit filed by an alleged victim of the since-defrocked Rev. Joseph Ross.
Frangie said the matrix included unsubstantiated complaints that were not reviewed by the archdiocese’s review board of lay people.
“The matrix did not go through a thorough process of investigation,” he said.
Nicole Gorovsky, an attorney who has represented dozens of abuse victims, doubted the allegations in the matrix were thoroughly investigated, she said.
“Were they lying to the court five years ago or are they lying to the public now?” she said. “Are we really to believe that 51 St. Louis priests were wrongfully accused? Baloney.”
‘Secure in our faith’
Catholics throughout St. Louis scanned the publicized list on Friday with different reactions.
“I don’t think it will have much of an impact on me personally and my family because we are secure in our faith and we know that all people sin including priests,” said Bill Hannegan, 61, a devout Catholic and father of six grown children.
But he wished more information had been released.
Scanning through the list Friday, he was surprised to see the name William Poepperling. Poepperling died in 1983. Hannegan said he’d met him years ago and remembered him as a “wonderful person.” He said the priest recalled playing baseball with Hannegan’s grandfather, Robert E. Hannegan, who went on to become U.S. Postmaster General for President Harry S Truman.
“I was shaking his hand,” Bill recalled of meeting the priest. “I just felt like a million bucks talking to him. I do wish there were more details about what he was accused of in order to put it in perspective.”
According to the list, Poepperling was one of 12 clergy with “substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor that were first accused after death.”
To produce the list released Friday, Carlson hired former FBI and police investigators to review diocesan records and compile a list of credibly accused priests, with the aim of making the list public once the archdiocese was sure it was thorough and accurate. He recently said he wouldn't see the investigators’ work until the findings were reviewed by a committee of lay people.
Releasing the list may be one of Carlson’s last major acts as archbishop.
Carlson, leader of the largest faith group in the region, turned 75 in June, mandatory retirement age for Roman Catholic bishops. While Pope Francis has been notified, it’s unclear when Carlson will be replaced in St. Louis.
Asked about a timeline for release in a recent interview, Carlson said he wanted to make sure the list, which he had created, was complete before release.
“If I am the one who produces a list and there is one name not on it, I am a dead man,” he said.